The final test: Postell catches fire as the Red Rocks advance to the Super Six

By and

AUBURN, Ala.-Day one of the NCAA National Championships is in the books, and it’s so far so good for the U gymnasts.

After racking up a morning session best 196.850, the Utes earned a ticket to Friday’s “Super Six,” where they will try to win their first national title in 10 years.

“It’s great to be moving on,” U coach Greg Marsden said.

“I think the opening round gets more and more tough every year, and it’s so much tougher to move on to the Super Six.”

It may have felt tough to the team, but according to the scores, they had a fairly easy time of it.

The only team even kind of close to the Utes at the end was Michigan, who finished with a score of 196.575.

The big surprise in the afternoon session was Nebraska advancing. The Huskers overtook LSU after the very last floor routine, when Emily Parsons nailed a 9.925 in the anchor slot.

It was a big letdown for LSU, who had come into the championships considered by many the next best afternoon team behind the Utes.

The Red Rocks were sharp from start to finish, counting no falls, and having only one total-a rare tumble off the beam by Nicolle Ford.

“It was just a fluke,” Ford said.

“It was one of those things where you get down [on the mat] and you’re like ‘Whoa, what happened?'”

Ford recovered nicely, hitting with a 9.85 on the floor and a 9.8 on vault.

After two rotations, it looked like it would be a bit of a dogfight for the Utes to advance. The U was tight with Michigan, Nebraska and LSU, with all four turning in good but not great performances.

Then the Utes caught fire.

Moving to floor for their third rotation, the Red Rocks didn’t count a score lower than Kristen Riffanacht’s 9.825. They ended the rotation with a pair of 9.9s as Annabeth Eberle and Gritt Hofmann turned in near-perfect performances.

It was much of the same on vault, as Eberle and Ashley Postell rang up a 9.95 and a 9.925 respectively.

Postell, in the spotlight all season, had a scintillating national championship debut.

The freshman had the top all-around score of the afternoon session with a 39.575, good enough for first team All-America honors.

The top four competitors in each session on each apparatus earn first team honors, with the fourth through eighth finishers gaining second team notoriety.

In addition to her all-around triumph, Postell earned first team on vault, bars and beam. She completed the All-America sweep with a second team nod on floor-only one space away from first team.

Other Ute first teamers were Eberle in the all-around and vault, Rachel Tidd on bars, and Gritt Hofmann on floor.

Next up for the Utes is the final six-their decade long nemesis.

“We’ve never had the feeling of winning a championship,” Ford said about the current squad. “We want to taste [a national title].”

In order to get that taste, they will have to get through some tough teams.

Georgia, Alabama and UCLA all easily advanced out of the evening session, and figure to be Utah’s main competition on Friday.

Ironically, those three schools, along with the Utes, are the only teams to win women’s NCAA gymnastics titles in the 23 years the NCAA has sponsored the sport.

The fight for the title kicks off Friday at 6 p.m. MDT. CBS will air the meet on tape delay May 1st at 1 p.m. MDT.

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2005 NCAA National Gymnastics Championships Day One

Afternoon Session1. *Utah 196.8502. *Michigan 196.5753.*Nebraska 195.8754.LSU 195.8005.Penn St. 194.9756.Oklahoma 194.425

Evening Session1. *Georgia 197.3502. *UCLA 197.0253. *Alabama 197.0004. Florida 196.2255. Iowa St. 195.9756. BYU 194.625

* Denotes teams that advanced to final day